U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza and Israel’s upcoming ground operation in Rafah.
Biden stressed “the need to capitalize on progress made in the negotiations to secure the release of all hostages as soon as possible,” according to a White House readout of the call.
It was the first time the two leaders had spoken since Biden described Jerusalem’s response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre as “over the top” late last week.
The president also “reaffirmed our shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people,” according to the White House.
An Israeli political source cited by Ynet characterized the conversation as “good” and said discussions focused on the looming ground operation in the Hamas stronghold of Rafah, the issue of aid to Gaza and the ongoing hostage release negotiations.
In keeping with previous statements, Biden “called for urgent and specific steps to increase the throughput and consistency of humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians” and reiterated his stance that the Israel Defense Forces should not take action in Rafah “without a credible and executable plan” to protect civilians there.
Earlier on Sunday, The Washington Post cited Washington insiders as saying that fundamental disagreements over the war against Hamas are driving Biden towards a “breach” with Netanyahu, whom he believes can no longer be “influenced even in private.”
Quoting “19 senior administration officials and outside advisers,” the newspaper said that Biden’s mounting frustration with Netanyahu has led some White House aides to suggest that the president ramp up public criticism of the IDF operation in Gaza.
Separately from the Post article, a senior Biden administration official told NBC News on Sunday that “there is a growing divide between the U.S. and Israel,” specifically over the imminent IDF offensive in Rafah.
On Thursday, Biden appeared to describe Jerusalem’s military response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 people in southern Israel as “over the top,” adding that he was seeking a “sustained pause” in the war.
“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” Biden said at a presser. The White House later clarified his remarks were directed at Israel.
Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday that while he has been speaking “regularly” with the president, the two leaders had not talked since Biden’s latest remarks accusing Israel of using disproportionate force.
“I don’t know what he [Biden] meant by that, but I can tell you where we are: Look, we were attacked in the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust,” said Netanyahu.
“That Oct. 7 massacre was equivalent to 20 9/11s in one day, and the equivalent of 50,000 Americans slaughtered, burned, maimed, raped, beheaded, and 10,000 Americans taken hostage, including mothers and children. So what would America’s response be?” he said.
“I’d say that it would be at least as strong as Israel’s, and many Americans tell me: ‘We would’ve flattened them, we would’ve turned them into dust,'” he added, noting that Israel is taking extensive measures to prevent harm to civilians, “as no other army has on earth.”